G8 Host Country’s Dark History of Terrorist Violence

northern ireland

Northern Ireland comprises the six north-eastern counties of the island of Ireland. On January 21st, 1919, The Republic of Ireland declared itself independent from the United Kingdom. That same day, following the ambush and murder of two Irish police officers, war broke out between the Republic and Britain. In 1920, the British partitioned Ireland and, in 1921, signed a treaty with the twenty-six counties that made up the Republic, or the Irish Free State. What followed was more than 60 years of sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland. The G8 host country’s dark history of terrorist violence claimed the lives of 3,526 people, according to Malcolm Sutton’s Index of Deaths from the Conflict in Ireland.

The factors which drove the violence in Northern Ireland, or Ulster, as it is referred to by Unionists, were both political and religious; the Irish Republican Army (IRA), which fought the British during the Anglo-Irish War – along with a number of other Republican terrorist groups – continued an armed struggle against British rule over the six counties. Opposing them were a number of Loyalist paramilitary groups – which could also rightly be described as terrorist organizations. The IRA’s goal was the unification of Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. The Loyalist groups were determined to prevent this and preserve Ulster as a part of the United Kingdom.

The religious divide followed the political split; The Republic of Ireland is an overwhelmingly Catholic nation and Northern Ireland’s minority Catholic population supports the ending of British rule and the unification of the two Irelands. The Protestants, who have a slim demographic dominance, are loyal to Britain and opposed to Irish nationalism. Hatred between Protestants and Catholics runs deep and each side indulges in the practice of indoctrinating their children to hate and distrust the other. Northern Ireland is an intensely religious place, with almost half the population regularly attending their respective church. Tensions became so high that, in Belfast, a wall was built to divide Catholic (and Republican) West Belfast and the Protestant eastern part of the city. Ironically, it was known as “the Peace Line”.

There are a number of terms used to define the two sides in this conflict and it is often confusing to those not familiar with Northern Ireland’s situation. Those who support British rule – Protestant, by religion – are known as Loyalists, or Unionists. The latter term is a more political one, referring to the political parties that support the continuation of the union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The Catholic opposition to the union is Republican – referring to their goal of becoming part of the Irish Republic – or Nationalist. The Unionists speak of Northern Ireland, or Ulster, while the Nationalists most often use the term “the six counties”, indicating their belief that Northern Ireland is merely a part of Ireland.

Each side in the struggle gave birth to an almost bewildering number of paramilitary organizations. On each side, these groups indulged in acts of terrorism against the civilian population, armed conflict with paramilitary groups from the other side of the divide and even power-struggles between themselves. In addition, the Nationalist groups targeted police, the British Army and British civilians, even in mainland Britain. On the Loyalist side, the most prominent and active groups were the Ulster Defence Association (UDA – British spelling of ‘defense’ intentional) and the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), although both groups use various other names and several splinter groups existed. On the Nationalist side, the most well-known group is generally referred to the Irish Republican Army (IRA), but, in fact, this more of an umbrella term, following the splitting up of the original IRA in 1969; The Provisional IRA, or PIRA, was the more active and dangerous group; responsible for many of the deadliest terror attacks. Another group referred to itself as the Real IRA (RIRA) and there was also the Official IRA. The Irish National Liberation Army INLA), founded in the mid-70’s, was a particularly violent group. In 1979, INLA assassinated British Member of Parliament Airey Neave, earning them increased respect within the Nationalist community, but internal feuding and confrontations with the IRA resulted in the group’s eventual disbandment.

From the 1960’s to the late 1990’s, G8 host Northern Ireland’s dark history of violence and terrorism plagued both the province and the British mainland; bombings, assassinations, the torture and murder of civilians – both Catholic and Protestant – and clashes with the British troops who patrolled the streets and fields of the six counties dominated the news in the United Kingdom. The Provisional IRA had established itself as a ‘respected’ terrorist organization and developed close ties with groups such as ETA in Spain and Hamas in the Palestinian territories. It was being supplied with weapons from Libya and also from the United States, with the tacit approval of prominent American political figures. The Kennedys, in particular, were enthusiastic supporters and fundraisers for Republican terror groups.

Arguably the darkest day for Britain came in August of 1979, when the Provisional IRA murdered Lord Louis Mountbatten, cousin of Queen Elizabeth II. Later that same day, a roadside bomb killed six British soldiers and 12 more were killed when a second device exploded. The dead included a British Army Colonel. It was the biggest loss suffered by the British Army in one day. In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, the IRA suffered heavy losses to the British Army – often as a result of special forces operations.

By the late 1990’s, the IRA had entered into negotiations to end their campaign and fully integrate themselves into the political process. Although Northern Ireland is still not completely at peace, the G8 host’s history of terrorist violence is largely behind it. Neither side could really claim victory – although the Republican terrorists had found themselves increasingly restricted in their ability to operate and were suffering a growing number of casualties; many of which could be attributed to information gathered from British informers and intelligence operatives. As for the prospect of the six counties ever being united with the twenty-six counties of the Republic of Ireland; that outcome remains remote and is still no more than a subject for speculation, for the time being.

Written by Graham J Noble



5 Responses to "G8 Host Country’s Dark History of Terrorist Violence"

  1. Kilsally   June 20, 2013 at 1:16 am

    It is of course worth noting that even in the worst year in Northern Ireland where 200-300 people are killed in it is actually lead than the annual murder rate of some mazurka US cities. I Northern Ireland has some of the lowest crime rates in the world and always had

  2. M murray   June 19, 2013 at 7:23 pm

    I notice there was no mention of the collusion of the Brittish government with the unionist terrorists? This is also a matter of the historical record. Yes Graham they were terrorists to answer your doubts.

  3. jgdawson   June 19, 2013 at 2:43 pm

    @ Graham Noble – Your comments are clearly influenced by those who wish to remain part of the U.K. First, “Ulster” is NOT a Unionist term! If you would have done your homework, you would have known that Ulster is one of the “four green fields” that make up the provinces of Ireland – Ulster, Leinster, Munster and Connacht. Secondly, although the going has been slow, what has been accomplished in Northern Ireland is next to miraculous. To spend time dredging up the past just re-empowers the “dark past” that we have just fought so hard to overcome. As to the peace process, it was the Republican side that came to the negotiation table first, gave up the most and sacrificed to bring peace. The Loyalist side was forced to the table by Tony Blair (and by the very brave Dr. Paisley’s DUP coming into the negotiations) to lay down their arms and accept progress. Yes, there are dissidents on both sides that continue to hold out, but they are a VERY SMALL minority and outliers who are just criminals who do not want to give up their graft. Why give them one more minute of attention in the media? Instead, why don’t you focus on the great strides by very brave leaders from both communities who are fighting for a shared future and prosperity for their children’s children. If and when a referendum does come before the people of Northern Ireland to reunite with the Republic, it will be by mutual agreement and mutual benefit to do so, not political wrangling.

    • Graham Noble   June 19, 2013 at 6:01 pm

      Thank you for your input. I do not always respond to comments on my articles, but you seem quite passionate about the subject, so I thought I would respond to you.

      Firstly, I am very well aware of the origins of the name “Ulster”. I did not state that it was a Unionist term; I said that Unionists often refer to Northern Ireland as Ulster, which is absolutely true – I have spent enough time in Northern Ireland to know this.

      Secondly; my article was merely recounting history….things that actually happened and are a matter of historical record. One cannot simply ignore history and pretend it never happened because, if one does – as the old saying goes – one is doomed to repeat its mistakes.

      I do not consider that I was passing judgement on the people of Northern Ireland. although I will not pretend that life was all sunshine and lollipops during the Troubles (I know from personal experience that it was not), I wish them all well, as they move towards a more harmonious future.

      • JGD   June 19, 2013 at 7:49 pm


        Thank you for your prompt and thoughtful response. My main point in responding to your article was not to “forget the past” as that would be foolish as you pointed out. But, as I read what is put out by the various media outlets, they all seem to dwell on the past offenses, atrocities and injustices but do not move past them. Each reporting with their own bias that keeps the hatred and segregation empowered and the pain and suffering of the past before everyone. The result, it inhibits the healing process (We have done the same thing here in the U.S. as it relates to segregation, especially in the South). There comes a point when we need to move past the bondages of the past and focus on the “testimonies” of what great progress we have seen in the last 10 years. If you really think about it, did anyone really believe that Dr. Paisley would ever agree with the St. Andrews agreement let alone shake hands with Mr. McGuinness? I keep the articles and pictures on my refrigerator to remind me of where we’ve been and that gives me hope for the future when things bog down up on the hill. The bottom line is, I believe we need to focus on what we want and what we can all hope for if we are going to be able to have the brave communication it is going to take to heal the past and forge a new way forward.


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